The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Stafford’s “For the Grave of Daniel Boone” is composed of twenty-five lines, in four unrhymed stanzas of six lines each and a final one-line stanza. A speaker, perhaps Stafford himself, recalls the Kentucky pioneer who explored the American frontier westward even to the Yellowstone country, broadening the borders of a fledgling nation. The poem addresses not so much a personal memory of the man but rather the heritage of his image and his relentless perseverance, his “going on.” It likewise honors him as one of the country’s spiritual forefathers, a man who embodied the desire to explore and embrace the land.

In the first stanza, “he” clearly refers to Boone, the frontiersman who makes a new wilderness his home. The farther west he travels, “the farther home grew,” but his home does not grow more distant from him as much as it grows with him, enlarging. As Boone journeys beyond the Mississippi River and enters a different landscape, one carpeted with flowers, Kentucky becomes merely a single room of his expanding home, this nation.

Then, “[l]eaving the snakeskin of place after place,” just as a snake sheds and abandons its old skin, Boone presses on through forests, grasslands, and the world of nature. His vision is so steady, his marksmanship so true, that his image is preserved into the present, a model or “story-picture” from which children can learn and be inspired. The third stanza...

(The entire section is 487 words.)